To recruit top talent, New Zealand organisations need to 'walk the talk' and develop recruitment strategies to build truly diverse workforces says Shay Peters, New Zealand Director of leading recruitment firm Robert Walters.

Robert Walters' Embracing Difference: How to recruit, retain and empower a diverse workforce research released last month shows that 82 per cent of respondents believe discrimination still exists in today's workplace.

"That shows there is still plenty of work to do in this area to make workplaces more inclusive. Also, a key part of building a diverse workplace is having a clear vision and strategy that is understood by staff. More than half the workforce, 53% of surveyed professionals were unaware of their organisations diversity strategy – if one exists at all. This shows that too many workplaces aren't treating this seriously and making it a core part of their culture and work practice."

He says that a lot of organisations aren't building a diversity focus in to their recruitment practices, and this is one of the key areas that needs to be included.

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"The survey shows that the three most common ways discrimination is experienced is in the hiring process, unequal salaries paid to employees working the same roles, and discrimination when decisions are made about promotions and redundancies.

"This could be due to managers still preferring to hire like-minded people, instead of a diverse mix, and employers are failing to weed out unconscious bias during hiring and promotion.

"In some cases, managers speak about the importance of diversity but don't back this up with effective action – so if there are policies, they carry no weight.

"New Zealand has suffered from a lack of diversity on its boards for some time, and unfortunately this is also true in senior management roles. "While some industries are developing their female leaders, many are still lacking diverse mix of people at the top. Some leaders don't understand the benefits of diversity."

How can businesses change their recruitment practices to encourage more diversity?

"There are several ways that businesses can up their game in this area and walk the talk, so to speak. It's worth doing an audit of where the organisation is in terms of diversity and where it wants to be in the future.

"Develop a diversity strategy, but make sure it's effectively communicated and understood by the workforce.

"You could offer diversity training and provide ongoing guidance for employees. Diversity should be the responsibility of the whole organisation – not just one department.

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"Invite feedback from staff in a way that they feel safe and secure. Issues of discrimination can often go unreported from people from some cultures. Managers need to instil a culture of trust and this requires real commitment to not only listening to concerns, but acting on them.

"There is a huge pool of untapped talent amongst people with disabilities. Employers should review recruitment processes to make them accessible. Many organisations offer flexible working practices for working parents which is great, but perhaps it's time to review these and see if they are working."

He says that advertising can be an effective way to attract a diverse range of candidates. Carefully prepared job adverts can make a significant difference to the range of people applying for roles.

"Establish mentoring programmes, this has multiple benefits, and is a proven way to help professionals progress to more senior roles in their organisation which increases retention and diversity in management roles."

Why is a diverse workforce a better workforce?

"This is worth pointing out as a staggering 36% of respondents said diversity isn't understood by their senior management. The survey respondents believe that an engaging and interesting workforce helps to generate enthusiasm and motivation among employees.

"New Zealand organisations are currently facing a skills shortage in multiple areas – a more diverse workforce can draw upon a wider pool of talent to gain a competitive edge."